A military jury on Monday found an Army sergeant accused of hazing a private because of his Chinese heritage not guilty of negligent homicide in the death of the private, who killed himself in Afghanistan.
The 10-member jury at Fort Bragg did find Sgt. Adam Holcomb guilty on two lesser charges, maltreatment of a subordinate and assault. Holcomb, from Youngstown, Ohio, faces a maximum of 2 1/2 years in prison.
The jury deliberated for two hours after hearing closing arguments.
Holcomb was the first of eight soldiers to be court-martialed for the alleged racial hazing of Pvt. Danny Chen, who killed himself last October. All of the defendants were members of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
Chen, 19, shot himself to death in a guardhouse Oct. 3. He was called names while in training, then was subjected to hazing after he was deployed to Afghanistan, his family has said. On the day of Chen's death, he was forced to crawl about 100 yards across gravel carrying his equipment while his fellow soldiers threw rocks at him, the family said.
Holcomb issued a statement from the stand apologizing for his actions, saying that he knows what he did was wrong and alluding to suffering from symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I haven't had a CT scan, but I know I have issues up there," he said.
Four other men face the negligent homicide charge, the most severe in this case.
New York City Council member Margaret Chin criticized the verdict.
"This decision is an affront to the Chen family and to servicemen and women across our country," Chin said in a statement Monday. "Never before has the pervasiveness of hazing and bullying in our armed forces been so exposed.
"Sgt. Holcomb physically and verbally abused Private Chen. His campaign of abhorrent and racist behavior was unrelenting, and it caused Private Chen's death. By failing to uphold the most serious charges in this case, the military has effectively condoned Sgt. Holcomb's conduct," she said.
Chin represents lower Manhattan, including Chinatown and the lower east side. Chen was born to Chinese immigrants and grew up in that part of Manhattan. He enlisted in the Army after high school and had only been in Afghanistan for two months at the time of his death. Chen told his family, and wrote in his journal, about the abuse.
Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization for Chinese Americans, said that at a minimum, Holcomb should be discharged from the Army.
"If the U.S Army expects Asian Americans to fight for our country, they must send a strong signal that Asian American soldiers will be protected from superiors who engage in racist conduct," OuYang said.
Throughout the trial, the defense painted Chen as an incompetent soldier disowned by his family. Prosecutors said Holcomb abused Chen and drove him to suicide.